Pakistani Public Opinion Towards Terrorism

Pakistani Public Opinion Towards Terrorism


This event, co-sponsored with Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies and the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Asia Program, is part of International Security Studies’ ongoing Terrorism and Homeland Security Forum.

Christine Fair, assistant professor at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, noted that there has been much discussion about the shortcomings of Pakistan’s security forces in meeting the threat of terrorism in that country. Much less attention has been focused on the related issue of assessing public attitudes toward the violent militants. Fair argued that contrary to the conventional wisdom, popular opinion does constrain military and political options in Pakistan.

Fair’s presentation focused on several public opinion data sets collected in Pakistan since the events of 9/11. She noted that the data sets vary: the Pew Global Attitudes Project polls skew toward urban populations, while the International Republican Institute surveys fielded more nationally representative samples. Fair stipulated that the widespread misinformation about the nature of the terrorist threat should be taken into account when assessing these public opinion polls. (She cited one exchange with a focus group in which the only person who offered an answer about Al Qaeda and its leadership said that the terrorist organization was directed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai!)

A variety of militant groups have operated within Pakistan for decades. Perhaps best known are the “Kashmiri groups,” a misnomer according to Fair since few ethnic Kashmiris are among their ranks and do not operate exclusively in Kashmir. Indeed, these groups are viewed as “assets of the state” that have received support from the Pakistani security establishment.

Fair’s focus was on the “Pakistani Taliban,” which has “established an archipelago of micro-emirates of Sharia” in Pakistan’s northwestern and western regions and has been targeting the Pakistani state. She argued that public opinion was largely tolerant of the Pakistani Taliban (not to be confused with the Afghan Taliban) as long as they operated in those remote areas in which the central government has never exercised effective control.

A series of events in spring 2009 shaped public opinion and were the prelude to the current offensive of the Pakistani military into areas controlled by the Pakistani Taliban. In March, the Swat valley came under the control of the Pakistani Taliban. Weeks later, the militants pushed on to Buner, not far from Islamabad. “This signaled that militants would not confine themselves to the historical areas of chaos west of the Indus River,” Fair stated. Also affecting public attitudes was a widely circulated video of the beating of a young girl by bearded men, reportedly members of the Taliban.

Fair stated that Pakistanis understand and appreciate the terrorist threat. But that does translate into Pakistani support for the U.S. “war on terrorism.” As she put it, “our enemy list and Pakistan’s don’t overlap much.” What we should be aiming to do, she concluded, is not to sell them on our war on terrorism, but rather, to help them craft their own communication strategy to win popular support in Pakistan for their own war on terrorism.




By Robert Litwak


2 thoughts on “Pakistani Public Opinion Towards Terrorism

  1. Off-course after being repeatably betrayed by so called allies-ops-masters USA, most Pakistanis have hardly any faith in USA, besides we just don’t dislike USA but our own puppet politicians and democratic regimes that lay on the feet of USA for aid, that goes in their pockets and continue to sell us and our national interests. Having minerals, coals and gas we continue to be a corrupted and poor country, may peace come back to my country but for that we need fresh leadership unlike all the above mentioned. I don’t know where these figures have been obtained for the slide saying BHUTTO was most seen as credible, her two regimes have been marred with total corruption, selling national assets, bribery, looting common man’s lands in her own province Sindh, killing her own brother because he was going to expose her and Asif Ali Zardari and appeasing to Isamists and reshuffling constitution to Sharia enforcement, pushing women on the back burner, making deals with religious political parties for keeping her government going and by reintroduction of discriminatory laws against women. I wonder why international world fails to get all this? A woman in power does not mean any good for women’s empowerment as the global communities think, Bhutto openly helped herself to all the riches of Pakistan, so hardly many people will think she is credible. In any case, none of these goons are credible, all tried tested and burned!


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